Your knees are among the strongest joints in your body, they support your body weight while providing stability as you walk, run, bend, jump and lift. Your knees also allow you the mobility to sit and stand. Unfortunately, your knees are also the most commonly injured joints in your body.
The knee joint forms at the intersection of four bones, the femur (your thigh bone), the tibia and fibula (the two bones of your lower leg) and the patella, (your kneecap) which slides over the top of the joint as you bend your knee.
Your knees are supported and stabilized completely by the surrounding ligaments and muscles. The major ligaments are the cruciate ligaments which run across the anterior (front) and posterior (back) of the knee, and the collateral ligament located on both sides of the knee. If you follow sports, you’ve surely heard of athletes with injuries to their ACL, the anterior cruciate ligament that connects the thigh bone to the lower leg and runs just beneath the patella.
In addition to ligaments, your knees are supported by several large muscle groups. The quadriceps are the large muscles on the front of your thigh that straighten your knee when walking or standing. On the back of your leg, your hamstrings run behind the knee and attach to the two bones of the lower leg, your tibia and fibula and are responsible for bending your knee. The remaining muscles involved in knee support and movement are the hip abductors (outer thigh) and hip adductors (inner thigh), the calf muscles and the glutes (the muscles of your buttocks).
Why the anatomy lesson? Aside from a direct impact injury, the major cause of knee pain is instability resulting from weak muscles and ligaments surrounding the joint. Want to strengthen and stabilize your knees and reduce knee pain while increasing your range of motion? Strengthen the supporting muscle groups.
You may be able to reduce or eliminate your knee pain and improve your strength and mobility through exercise. The following low-impact exercises were selected to improve your strength and restore a balance of the muscle groups supporting and stabilizing your knees:
1. Wall Slides
Strengthens the quadriceps and the tissues and ligaments above your knee.
How to do them: Stand 12-18 inches from a wall and lean back until your entire back contacts the wall. Place your hands out to your sides with your palms facing the wall for support. Slowly slide down the wall until your knees reach a 30-degree angle and hold this position for 10-15 seconds, slowly return to the upright position and repeat a minimum of 5-10 times. Cautions: Do not lower your body to the point that your knees extend beyond your toes, if they do, stop and reposition your feet slightly further from the wall.
2. Seated straight-leg raises
Strengthens the quadriceps and hip flexors.
How to do them: Start by placing two chairs facing each other, sit in one and place one foot on the other. Now straighten that leg and lift your foot 4-6 inches off of the chair and hold for a minimum of 5-10 seconds and then relax. Perform this exercise 5-10 times for each leg and try to extend the time you hold your foot off the chair.
Variations: If chairs are not available, you can perform this exercise flat on the floor with one leg straight and opposite leg bent with your foot flat on the floor. As you become stronger, you can add an ankle weight to increase the difficulty.
3. Abductor raises
Strengthens the abductors, the muscles that move your leg away (abduct) from your center line.
How to do them: Lie on your side with your legs together and your arm bent at the elbow and supporting your head. Bend the lower leg at the knee to support your body and while keeping it straight, lift the (top) upper leg slowly up and away from the mat. Hold at the top for 5-10 seconds, slowly lower and repeat for 12-15 repetitions.
Cautions: Don’t swing or throw the leg up, avoid using momentum. Slowly lift, hold, lower and repeat. Once you become stronger, consider adding an ankle weight.
Disclaimer: All content on this website is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this website and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always consult with your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.